Across the United States, debates about medical marijuana fester in many communities and states. Currently, fourteen states of the fifty in the Union plus Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for medical use. Yet in those states, and many others who are considering similar measures, the argument rages on. What is most often ignored in these discussions is the science behind the use of cannabis as a medicine. Yet there is ample scientific evidence proving the efficacy of this natural herb in treating some medical conditions. Just as there is evidence of side effects.
First, the Science
The University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research has done several studiesinto the efficacy of marijuana for neuropathic use – especially in pain reduction. They have been done using FDA standardized clinical trials with randomized, placebo-controlled procedures. These studies have clearly shown the positive effects of using marijuana as a pain reliever and medicine for patients with such chronic conditions as HIV, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, spinal cord injury, and sleep disorders.1
A recent review in Germany showed that since 2005, there have been 37 controlled studies assessing the safety and efficacy of marijuana (and its compounds). These involved far more subjects than the average study seeking FDA approval for a prescription drug.2
These are just a few, as over 2,500 papers were published on the subject of cannabis in 2009 alone.
Next, the Baseless Debates
Many opponents of medical marijuana claim that there is “little evidence” and call for “moreresearch, more science.” These are the more reasonable of the detractors for the medicinal use of marijuana, of course. Yet these reasonable arguments against marijuana as a medicine are pretty hollow given the vast amount of research that’s already been done with much more on the way.
Proponents of medical marijuana often ignore the research as well. Despite the common claims to the contrary, there is evidence that marijuana also has negative side effects. Most of these center on the physical effects of smoking it as well as proven cognitive negatives. Admittedly, the effects are no worse (and generally better) than the side effects associated with many prescription drugs and accepted non-prescription drugs such as alcohol or tobacco.3
Most of the arguments for or against the use of medical marijuana seem to center on social rather than science-based concerns. This is rightly so, in some cases, as there are deep social issues involved with marijuana’s use (or prohibition). Many communities have benefited from the introduction of medical marijuana, however.4 The negative impacts of marijuana, socially, are nearly always associated with its prohibition rather than its allowance.
When All Is Said and Done
Marijuana is continually being proven to have medical uses. Its prohibition is becoming less and less tenable as negative societal impacts are proving to be more psychologically-based than they are scientific. With 14 of 50 states in the U.S. having medical marijuana laws and with several considering full legalization of it (as is Mexico and as have some European countries), the real motivations behind those who condemn marijuana as a “hard drug” akin to synthetic street drugs such as cocaine are hard to understand.
The truth is, however, until Americans are willing to be completely honest about the issues surrounding marijuana and its use as a medicine, these senseless arguments are likely to continue indefinitely. Both sides of the argument need to concede that the other may have some points. All involved must realize that medical marijuana has enough science-based proof behind it to be considered legitimate and at the same time must acknowledge that there are negatives to the use of marijuana as well.
1 – Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research studies list
2 – Review on clinical studies with cannabis and cannabinoids 2005-2009 by Arno Hzekamp, Franjo Grotenhermen, Institute Biology Leiden, Leiden University, The Netherlands
3 – Special Marijuana Issue New Scientist Magazine, 21 February 1998
4 – Medical Marijuana Has Lawmakers Seeing Green by Aaron Turpen, CannaCentral.com